VW Touareg: From about $75,000
VW Touareg: From about $75,000

The 2019 VW Touareg heads for hi-tech and luxury

THE third-generation Touareg, hailed by Volkswagen as the "biggest leap in the history of SUVs", confirms what many have thought for some time - we no longer buy the hulking wagons to go off-road.

The Touareg, due here early in 2019, is arguably as capable off-road as its predecessor, if not more so. However, there is a shift in its positioning to a luxury flagship with an emphasis on connectivity, urban driveability, digital capability and driver assistance.

With that shift, the world's biggest car maker has recognised how our perception towards SUVs has changed.

Touareg: Heading for hi-tech — and luxury — territory
Touareg: Heading for hi-tech — and luxury — territory

The original Touareg of 2002 mixed outback capability with urban cred. The 2018 version, "based on customer feedback" according to VW, has a heavy digital focus, on connectivity and combining hardware and software to enable partly automated driving.

Noticeably, there was no off-road driving at the international launch in Austria, with barely a mention of its all-wheel driving capabilities. Instead, the emphasis was on the technology under its skin.

The matrix headlamps, for example, each contain 128 LEDs that switch on in sequence to eliminate the need for a separate high-beam. At the other end, intelligent rear suspension has electromechanically controlled anti-roll bars.

Wider and longer: Touareg trims 106kg, shares Porsche Cayenne platform
Wider and longer: Touareg trims 106kg, shares Porsche Cayenne platform

Sharing its platform with the Porsche Cayenne, the new Touareg is wider and longer than the previous generation yet it weighs 106kg less.

The air suspension can raise the ride height off-road, drop it on the highway and lower it further still for loading when stationary.

With the increased dimensions comes a larger interior and a bigger luggage compartment that has grown by 113L to 810L with the rear seat in place. For all the extra width and space, the Touareg manages to feel smaller from behind the wheel.

This is largely due to new all-wheel steering. The rear wheels turn away from the front wheels below 37km/h for sharper turns and steer parallel with the fronts above that speed for more nimble cornering. The turning circle is just larger than the Golf's, 11.2m against 11m.

On the narrow, twisty alpine roads of northern Europe, it belied its bulk but the all-wheel steering required attentiveness as it lured the unaware into hugging low-speed corners a bit too closely.

Sleek styling: Cabin space and luggage capacity increase too
Sleek styling: Cabin space and luggage capacity increase too

Using the sleek Arteon stablemate as inspiration, the Touareg adopts a similar full width chromed, solid grille and headlamps. The front wheel arches are more pronounced, giving it an aggressive look enhanced by the 18, 19, 20 or 21-inch alloy wheels.

Focus of its futuristic interior is what VW calls its "Innovision Cockpit", in which a 12-inch LCD display in front of the driver merges with a curved 15-inch LCD centre console to provide a new digital operating, information, communication and entertainment centre. Virtually every non-essential function is controlled by the touchscreen.

The console also introduces infra-red night vision, a VW first. Its thermal imaging camera, mounted in the nose, recognises pedestrians and animals. Driver assist recognises road signs in any colour.

Below 60km/h, the Touareg employs semi-automated steering, acceleration and braking and lane departure warnings.

Futuristic: Innovision Cockpit is the digital control centre
Futuristic: Innovision Cockpit is the digital control centre

The downside was fairly lifeless steering feedback - the Touareg drove well but the wheel felt disconnected from the car. At times, when it steered itself back into the centre of the lane, it felt like small, subtle step towards the car being in control, not the driver.

There are three interior themes. Atmosphere uses a matt, open-pore wood veneer for a warm, log cabin type ambience, Elegance is more in keeping with the Teutonic feel with modern aluminium highlights and light grey leather and R-Line maintains VW's sporty black and carbon-fibre approach.

Engine options are a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel in two states of tune (170kW and 210kW) and 3.0-litre V6 turbo (250kW). A 4.0-litre V8 turbo diesel V8 (310kW) is coming later

All are backed by the luxury-standard ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.

All this may go some way to justifying its $75,000-plus price but the VW is now perilously close to the Audi Q7. It has gone boldly into luxury SUV territory against the BMW X5, Mercedes GLE and Jaguar F-Pace.



PRICE From $75,000 (est)

ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 210kW/600Nm

TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; AWD

THIRST 6.9L/100km

0-100KM/H 6.1 secs

TOP SPEED 238km/h